Almost Persuaded to What? – Acts 26:24-30

It goes without saying that one of the great themes of the Bible is “Christianity.” It is not the only theme or even the greatest, but it is near the top of the list. The Bible tells us how to become a Christian, and how a Christian ought to behave. But as many of you know the word “Christian” is found only three times in the Scriptures. The first time – in Acts 11:26 – we are told – “the disciples were called Christians first in Antioch.” The disciples of Christ – the followers of Christ – have been called “Christians” since early in history. Later Peter speaks of disciples generally, saying, “if any man suffer as a Christian, let him not be ashamed; but let him glorify God on this behalf.” The term “Christian” was not a glorious one – not even a polite one. It was often spoken with a sneer in the voice. It was as derogatory as any nickname, or epithet, that wicked people use today. Was that how Rome’s Jewish puppet king spoke the word here in our text – or was he being serious? Acts 26:28 – “Then Agrippa said unto Paul, Almost thou persuadest me to be a Christian.” Did Agrippa have any idea what it was to be a genuine “Christian?” Or was he looking at the disciples of Christ from the other direction – with malice and ignorance? I want to give the man the benefit of the doubt – that he was as sincere as his corrupted heart could be. But still, immediately after asking his question he got up and left, not waiting for Paul’s response. Even if his mind was leaning towards Christ, his heart was pulling him away.
What I hope to do this morning is define “Christianity” by using some of the clues Paul gives us in this chapter. These are the things which King Agrippa heard that day and which lead to his declaration – “almost.” Whether or not he understood the true nature of Bible Christianity, its elements were laid out before him. And before any of us, before anyone reading this message, before you who are listening to this message blurt out “almost thou persuadest me to be a Christian,” I hope you understand what it is you are rejecting.
Using a bit of alliteration please note that “Christianity” involves FAITH in Christ, FORGIVENESS through Christ, FELLOWSHIP with Christ; FAITHFULNESS to Christ, and FRUITFULNESS for Christ.
But first, let’s begin with the FICTION which at first keeps us from Christ.
Paul, formerly known as Saul, of the city of Tarsus, had been a religious man, growing up in religious home. If it had been our American society, he might have called himself “a Christian.” But he was more than that – verse 5 – “After the most straitest sect of our religion I live a Pharisee.” Again, if he was in our day and society, Saul might have professed to be a “fundamental Baptist.” He had been to Sunday School throughout his life, attending vacation Bible school in the summer, and perhaps even Christian camps and monthly youth gatherings with other churches. He was not just religious, Saul was far above average; he was a zealous Jew.
And Saul professed to know the Old Testament – his Bible. He believed that God could, and did perform, miracles – not all religionists in his day believed that. He believed in life after death and that God could raise the dead – before judging and sending those souls to Sheol – hell. He had been educated to believe that sinners and heretics should be punished – even executed. And so when it came to the Galilean named “Jesus,” a man who let people call him “the Messiah” – Saul knew that he and his people had to be stopped – silenced. I verily thought with myself, that I ought to do many things contrary to the name of Jesus of Nazareth.” So with the authority of his religion and his priests, “many of the saints – God’s holy people – did I shut up in prison.” And when in court, if it was necessary to prove that those saints were sinners, Saul testified against them, which often culminated in their deaths. One day, with the authority from the highest priests in Israel, he headed toward the Syrian city of Damascus, in order to enter its synagogues to arrest anyone who claimed to be a “Christian.” But all of a sudden he was knocked to the ground – bathed in a light brighter than the sun. He heard a Heavenly, Hebrew voice which only he could understand, and that voice rebuked him. “Saul, Saul, why persecuted thou me?”
Before Saul could become a “Christian,” he had to be confronted with the fiction of his religion. Despite being originally rooted in the Bible, his faith had been corrupted into a human-directed religion. Despite all the sincerity in his soul, Saul was living a lie, believing his lying priests and teachers. He told Agrippa, “I said to the voice, ‘Who art thou Lord? And he said, I am Jesus whom thou persecutest.” One of the most fundamental precepts of Paul’s religion was stripped from him in an instant of time – “Jesus Christ is Lord to the glory of God the Father.” And that Jesus of Nazareth, the Son of God, gave him some directions to guide him for the rest of his life.
Christianity, Bible Christianity, begins with being stripped down to our most basic parts. Until we conclude we are sinners, living in rebellion against God, we can never be disciples of Christ. Until we are turned upside down by the Spirit of God and emptied of all we hold dear, especially our faulty religion, we are in no place to become Christians. Agrippa, although a “Jew” in name, was not raised in the same religion as Saul. Saul might have also said, “Almost thou persuadest me to be a Christian” – not willing to admit to the fiction of his faith and religion. But by the grace and power of the sovereign God, Saul of Tarsus was made to see folly of his former faith. He assented to the fiction of his religion, taking the first step toward Bible “Christianity.” And again I repeat – none of us will ever be Christians, until we are stripped down to our basic sinful self.
In Saul’s case, God instantly placed in his heart a FAITH in Christ which hadn’t been there before.
Theologians might suggest that it is a little more complicated than this, but the Bible makes it simple. “Believe on the Lord Jesus Christ, and thou shalt be saved, and thy house” – and that is was Saul did. “As many as received [Christ Jesus, the Word of God], to them gave he power to become the sons of God, even to them that believe on his name.” “Abraham believed God and it was imputed unto him for righteousness. Now it was not written for his sake alone, that it was imputed to him. But for us also, to whom it shall be imputed, if we believe on him that raised up Jesus our Lord from the dead; Who was delivered for our offences and raised again for our justification.” John said, “These things have I written unto you that believe on the name of the Son of God; that ye may know that ye have eternal life, and that ye may believe on the name of the Son of God.”
Saul, for some time, had denied that Jesus of Nazareth was the Christ, the Son of God. And he had been trusting in his obedience to the law of God to wash away the effects of his old sins. He had been persecuting those who believed on Christ, trying to make them blaspheme the Lord, forcing them to deny what they believed. But when the light of God pierced his soul, he was given faith to believe on Christ, and that is what he did. As it later became a part of his message – he came to see and to trust, “that Christ should suffer, and that he should be the first that should rise from the dead, and should show light unto the people (the Jews) and to the Gentiles.”
Not only did Saul come to see the facts – Jesus, as the appointed Saviour, died on the cross to save sinners. He also believed that Christ died specifically to save Saul – a wretched blasphemer and murderer. He trusted Christ, His sacrifice, and His blood to cover and atone for his sins.
This faith in Christ as Saviour is one of the profound and basic elements of Bible Christianity.
And flowing from that – another critical part of that Christianity is FORGIVENESS.
Some Christians emphasize it more than other Christians, but it is there – it must be there. In Saul’s case, he didn’t spit out the dust filling his mouth and begin pleading for forgiveness. “Oh God, please forgive me. Cleanse me. I am a wretched man worthy of hell-fire. Be gracious unto me and forgive me before I die.” We read none of that. But when he said, “Lord, who art thou?” there was a Spirit-induced humility and surrender. There was an immediate recognition and acknowledgment that the One behind the voice and the light was the Son of God, and Paul had a desire for Him. When Christ Jesus claimed Saul and commissioned him to Christian service for the rest of his life, the man knew that he had been forgiven.
“Forgiveness” became one of Paul’s favorite words. He used that word more than any other writer in the Bible. For example in his introduction to the letter to the Colossians he said, Christ “hath delivered us from the power of darkness, and hath translated us into the kingdom of his dear Son; in whom we have redemption through his blood, even the FORGIVENESS of sins.” In Ephesians while magnifying the Lords’ sovereign election, he said, “Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, who hath blessed us with all spiritual blessings in heavenly place in Christ… In whom we have redemption through the Holy Spirit blood, the FORGIVENESS of sins, according to the riches of his grace.” In Antioch he told a group of Jews, “Be it known unto you therefore, men and brethren, that through this man is preached unto you the FORGIVENESS of sins, and by him all that believe are justified from all things from which ye could not be justified by the law of Moses.”
One of the great blessings of Christianity is God’s forgiveness of all our sins. That forgiveness is based upon the sacrifice which Christ made on the cross. It is not an easy or incidental thing as far as God is concerned. Complicated principles of justice and holiness had to be maintained; but the Lord miraculously met them. And with forgiveness comes the righteousness of Christ and God’s declaration of our cleansing – our salvation. Forgiveness is a critical part of Christianity; it became a key ingredient in Paul’s message.
And from where did he get that message? It was given to him on the day he was forgiven and saved. Christ said, “Rise, and stand upon thy feet: for I have appeared unto thee for this purpose, to make thee a minister and a witness both of these things which thou hast seen, and of those things in the which I will appear unto thee; Delivering thee from the people, and from the Gentiles, unto whom now I send thee, To open their eyes, and to turn them from darkness to light, and from the power of Satan unto God, that they may receive FORGIVENESS of sins, and inheritance among them which are sanctified by faith that is in me.”
Forgiveness is one of the key ingredients of Christianity. And it is something which only Christians can possess, because it is a result of the sacrifice of Christ. If you want to be forgiven of your many sins, then you need the Christ of Bible Christianity. And if you are a Christian, then your many sins have been forgiven; they are under the blood of the Lamb of God. You do not need to fear your past transgressions – and the sins of today are under the blood as well. Continue to confess and forsake them, but have no fear of them – they are all forgiven – those of the past and those of the future.
And that forgiveness gives the Christian the opportunity for FELLOWSHIP with Christ.
Picture a king from some country in the ancient world in all his splendor and power. He has absolute power – absolute authority – including life and death. A rebel against his sovereignty has been caught and is pushed into the king’s presence. He falls upon his face and dares not to lift his eyes or his voice toward; he knows he is about to die. But surprisingly, instead of hearing the words of condemnation, he hears, “rise and stand upon thy feet.” It’s not “stand up, traitor,” but with a voice as tender as a loving mother, he hears, “rise, I have brought you to appear before me for a very good purpose.”
When Saul became a Christian there commenced a wonderful relationship with Christ – a fellowship – which remained throughout his life. It gave him a joy which he never had before – in his former religion; in his life; in anything. He and his Saviour became companions and friends; he became closer to Christ than to any other person. Paul found that he didn’t have to go into the temple to pray, he could commune with the Lord anytime and anywhere. And the fear which filled his heart when he was first knocked to the ground, melted away with Christ’s comforting love. “Peace I leave with you, my peace I give unto you: not as the world giveth, give I unto you. Let not your heart be troubled, neither let it be afraid.” Soon after his conversion from Pharisee to Christian, Paul spent time alone in the desert in the school of the Holy Spirit, the Spirit of Christ. How close they drew to one another. From that day forward Paul was never alone, for Christ and the Spirit were with him. When he needed help, encouragement or direction, he found he could “do all things through Christ which strengtheneth me.” The Christ of Christianity gave Paul a new purpose to live, and a new companion to go with him in that purpose. I send you now to the Gentiles, “To open their eyes, and to turn them from darkness to light, and from the power of Satan unto God, that they may receive forgiveness of sins, and inheritance among them which are sanctified by faith that is in me.” Paul then added, “Having therefore obtained help of God, I continue unto this day.” Paul was as a branch while Christ was the vine, and the life of Christ flowed through him. And the fellowship of Christ also involved a much broader relationship – the fellowship of “Christianity.” As a child of God and brother of Christ, Paul became a brother to all the other believers and brethren of Christ.
Fellowship with Christ is one of the characteristics of Christianity –
and so are FOLLOWSHIP and faithfulness.
Verse 19 – “Whereupon, O king Agrippa, I was not disobedient unto the heavenly vision. But shewed first unto them of Damascus, and at Jerusalem, and throughout all the coasts of Judaea, and then to the Gentiles, that they should repent and turn to God, and do works meet for repentance. For these causes the Jews caught me in the temple, and went about to kill me. Having therefore obtained help of God, I continue unto this day, witnessing both to small and great, saying none other things than those which the prophets and Moses did say should come: That Christ should suffer, and that he should be the first that should rise from the dead, and should shew light unto the people, and to the Gentiles.”
Here are some of the areas which prove that modern Christian is not Bible Christianity. Many people today think that they are Christians because they have asked Jesus to save them. As children in vacation Bible school, or when they entered the hospital for that terrible surgery, they pleaded with God to forgive them of their sins. For a while, shortly after their marriage, or after their mother died, they began attending church, and they gave up a couple of their worst vices. They convinced themselves that because of these things they were Christians. But they hardly took a single step beyond them. Eventually they stopped praying, attending church, or considering that their wicked actions were sinful. Oh, but they looked back to that day they asked Jesus into their hearts. That, my friend, is not Bible Christianity.
“Whereupon, O king Agrippa, I was not disobedient unto the heavenly vision.” Obedience and a willingness to follow the Lord’s direction are also characteristics of true Christianity. I was reading a sermon by C.H. Spurgeon earlier this week and I stumbled over a statement he made. In speaking to people who were not yet Christians he said, “Now, you have been asking God to save you. Do you expect Him to save you without your believing and being baptized?” I was ready to call Spurgeon a heretic, a Campbellite, a Protestant. But I have read hundreds of messages by that preacher, and despite that statement, I know he did not believe that baptism is essential for a person’s salvation. Here is where that preacher was going – if someone is not interested in faithfully following the Saviour, then there is reason to doubt that person’s profession of salvation. If a person is not willing to be baptized, to join one of Christ’s churches, to pray, to witness, to read God’s Word, that person may not be – probably is not – a Christian. “Whereupon, O king Agrippa, I was not disobedient unto the heavenly vision.”
Paul was actually and thoroughly saved while still getting up from the dirt on that road outside of Damascus. But within a week, he was being immersed in water as a testimony of his new life in Christ. And then he joined himself to the other believers in the city, “showing first unto them of Damascus… that they should repent and turn to God, and do works meet for repentance.” Do – “works meet for repentance” – wash away past sins or provide a dead soul with eternal life? No. But they give evidence of that eternal life, and they are a part of the new believer’s fellowship with Christ and their followship of His will. If there is no followship of Christ, there should be a concern whether or not there is any relationship at all.
Where there is Christian fellowship, and faithful followship there will be FRUITFULNESS.
Why was Paul even standing before Agrippa and Festus on this occasion? Despite whatever accusations the Jews had carried to the Romans about him, it was really because the ministry of Paul was being blessed by the Holy Spirit and souls were coming to Christ. Everywhere Paul went, preaching repentance, turning to God and faith in Christ, people were being saved – they were becoming “Christians.” In Galatia, in Ephesus, in Corinth, in Philippi, Antioch. In Thessalonica, both Jews and Gentiles, “turned to God from idols to serve the living and truth God; and to wait for his Son from Heaven, whom he raised from the dead, even Jesus, which delivered us from the wrath to come.” Paul was hated by the Jewish leadership because of his Holy Spirit blessed success. But this was only a part of the fruit of his life.
Paul may have been especially called and specially blessed with this kind of fruit; not every minister of God will ever have this kind of bumper crop. But as we heard in a message last week, there is other fruit – which is evidence of salvation and evidence of “Christianity.” Galatians 5:22 – “The fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, longsuffering, gentleness, goodness, faith, meekness and temperance.” Paul didn’t have the opportunity to prove to Agrippa that these things were a part of his new life in Christ. It may take time, and proof of these things require observation under the light of special circumstances. These take us back to fellowship with Christ – joy and peace. These things come from the ministry of the Holy Spirit in the heart and life of the saint.
The Lord Jesus told us in John 15 – “ I am the true vine, and my Father is the husbandman. Every branch in me that beareth not fruit he taketh away: and every branch that beareth fruit, he purgeth it, that it may bring forth more fruit. Abide in me, and I in you. As the branch cannot bear fruit of itself, except it abide in the vine; no more can ye, except ye abide in me. I am the vine, ye are the branches: He that abideth in me, and I in him, the same bringeth forth much fruit: for without me ye can do nothing. If a man abide not in me, he is cast forth as a branch, and is withered; and men gather them, and cast them into the fire, and they are burned. If ye abide in me, and my words abide in you, ye shall ask what ye will, and it shall be done unto you. Herein is my Father glorified, that ye bear much fruit; so shall ye be my disciples.”
King Agrippa said, “Almost thou persuadest me to be a Christian.” But he didn’t REALLY want to be a Christian – it was against his nature, his religion and his upbringing. Real Christians are Christ’s disciples. And the Lord said, “Herein is my Father glorified, that ye bear much fruit; so shall ye be my disciples.”
Are you truly a Christian? Is your FAITH in Christ and Christ alone for salvation, or have you mixed in the works of your flesh and the law? Do you have regular FELLOWSHIP with the Saviour, and do you faithfully FOLLOW His will? Is there the kind of FRUIT in your life which declares that you are a part of the true vine? Or are you “almost a Christian?”